Pronoun Usage

Rules for Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement

  • Nouns joined by and are treated as plural.
    • Ex: The player and the coach decided their score.
  • When nouns are joined by or, the pronoun agrees with the closest noun.
    • Ex: The mother or the daughters were able to complete their projects.
    • The daughters or the mother was able to complete her project.
  • Collective nouns such as them take the singular if they are acting as a unit and the plural if they are acting as individuals.
    • Ex: The team (as individuals) decide today if they want to strike.
    • The team (as a group) won its first game.
  • Special Singular Antecedents: Each of these constructions is considered singular. Any pronoun that refers to them must be singular.
    • Ex: Either of the choices has its complications.
    • Ex: Each of the students had his or her test paper corrected.
    • Ex: One of the bracelets was missing from its box.
    • Ex: Every one of the saleswomen received her bonus
  • Indefinite Pronouns can be singular, plural or both. Just refer to the following lists to make sure your agreement is correct.
  • Each of these pronouns is singular: One way to remember is to think of body and one as singular.
    • anybody
    • any one
    • everybody
    • everyone
    • nobody
    • no one
    • somebody
    • someone
    • Ex: Everyone left his book on the bus.
    • Ex: No one should leave with his report.
  • Each of these indefinite pronouns is plural:
    • both
    • many
    • several
    • few
    • Ex: Both of the boys lost their keys to the room.
  • The following pronouns can be singular or plural, depending on the noun or pronoun they refer to:
    • more
    • any
    • some
    • most
    • all
    • Ex: All of the candy is out of its box. (candy is singular)
    • Ex: All of the reports are in their folders. (reports is plural)
    • Ex: Most of the historic house is in its original condition.
    • Ex: Most of the visitors found their way.

Special Rules for Pronoun Case

  • Personal pronouns take different forms depending on how they are used in the sentence. They can be subjects, objects of verbs, objects of prepositions, or possessive.

Singular

Subject Object Possessive
I me my (mine)
you you your (yours)
he, she, it him, her, it his, her (hers), its (NOT it's)
who whom whose
whoever whomever  

Plural

Subject Object Possessive
we us our (ours)
you you yours
they them their (theirs)
  • Examples:
    • He likes to fish. (subject)
    • Marian watched her on television. (object of verb)
    • Please give this message to him. (object of preposition)
    • The first house on the left is ours. (possessive)

Case in Compound Constructions

  • Compound constructions are those which have two nouns, two pronouns, or a noun and a pronoun. Sometimes the extra noun or pronoun makes the sentence "sound" right when it is not. Always check that you are using the correct pronoun by dropping the other words from the compound.
    • Ex: Johnny and I went to the grocery store. (subjects)
    • While Johnny and me might "sound" right, if you drop Johnny and from the sentence, you will "hear" that Me went to the grocery store is wrong.
    • Ex: He returned the packages to Barbara and me (object of preposition to).
    • Just between you and me, I think that was a terrible movie (object of preposition between).
    • Barbara trusted Carl and me to do the work (object of verb trust).

Pronoun Case in Comparisons

  • Pronouns that complete comparisons, such as the word I in the phrase he is stronger than I, may be in any case. The best way to decide which case is needed is to "complete" the sentence.
    • Ex: His son is as stubborn as he (is). (subject of verb)
    • If you add the word is to complete the sentence, you know that you need he and not him in the comparison because you would not say him is.
    • Ex: The budget revisions will affect you more than (they will affect) her. (object of verb)
    • Here you needed to add the words they will affect to complete the sentence.
  • Notice that the meaning of the following sentence changes depending on the pronoun used to complete it. If you make a pronoun error, you may be misunderstood.
    • Ex: She likes Mary more than I (do).
    • She likes Mary more than (she likes) me.

Use of Who and Whom

  • To decide whether who or whom is the appropriate choice, you need to determine whether the pronoun is being used as a subject (who) or an object (whom).
    • Who is at the door? (subject of verb)
    • Whom do you wish to invite? (object of verb)
    • To whom were you speaking? (object of preposition)
  • Tip from students: If you have trouble deciding on who or whom, change the question to a statement and substitute he or she for who and him or her for whom to see which "sounds" correct.
    • Ex: He (who) is at the door. Who is at the door?
    • You wish to invite her (whom). Whom do you wish to invite?
    • You were speaking to him (whom). Whom were you speaking to? Or- To whom were you speaking?
  • When who (or whoever) or whom (or whomever) appears in a clause, deciding which is correct can be difficult. You have to determine how the pronoun is used in the clause, not how it is used in the rest of the sentence.
    • Ex: I will give the best grade to whoever deserves it. In this sentence, although the pronoun seems to be the object of the preposition to, actually the entire clause is the object of the preposition. The pronoun is the subject of the verb deserves and is therefore in subject form.
    • Ex: I prefer working with volunteers whom I already know. (Whom is object of the verb know.)